The difference between cost and value will never be more thoroughly tested on the racecourse than it will be this summer after the demolition in Florida of the world auction record price for a thoroughbred.
The horn-locking between the Coolmore and Godolphin camps reached a new level when Demi O'Byrne, acting for Coolmore principal John Magnier, outbid Sheikh Mohammed's representative John Ferguson at a cool $16m (£9.14m) for an unraced bay two-year-old by Forestry at a sale in Miami.
The fall of the hammer in the sales arena at Calder racecourse late on Tuesday night consigned one of the longest-standing statistics in the business. It had been 21 years since two of the Coolmore first guard, the late Robert Sangster and his trainer Vincent O'Brien, bought the yearling colt subsequently known as Seattle Dancer for $13.1m.
In global business terms, $16m is perhaps not such a big deal as an investment. And unlike an unbroken yearling, this colt, Lot 153 in the Fasig-Tipton catalogue, may be less of a gamble, for he has at least already proved he has something of an engine. He was offered at a 'breeze-up' sale, the format of which requires a workout under saddle at the gallop before going through the ring. And the white-blazed bay, a son of promising young sire Forestry, proved on fire in his spin on the racetrack, clocking an unprecedented 9.8 seconds through a furlong. If he could keep that up for five, he'd take 10 seconds off the Ascot track record.
"He'd better be good," said O'Byrne afterwards. "And only time will tell. But he breezed awfully well, and he's a good-looking horse with a good pedigree." Taking a chance, however expensive, on well-bred colts was Sangster's brainchild and is what still drives those at the sharp end of the bloodstock industry. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.
The ringside battles between Mohammed and Magnier seem to be as much about ego as business and the Irish team drew first blood of this year after losing out to the Dubai men for last season's yearling plum, a Storm Cat colt who took third place on the all-time leader board for his age at $9.7m. The Forestry colt has already changed some lives. Florida-based Randy Hartley and Dean deRenzo took some chance when they speculated $425,000 on the youngster last year with the intention of re-selling. But when the two highest rollers in the world eyeballed their colt and then each other, the lottery jackpot was theirs.